26 If anyone thinks he is religious q and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s r religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction, and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
Main point summary
If you think you're religious but don't control you're tongue, you're revealing a deceived heart. Practice true religion by being morally pure and caring for those who need it.
If anyone thinks he is religious
If a person believes they know God
q and does not bridle his tongue
and they do not harness or control their words
but deceives his heart,
and by not doing so they lie to themselves,
this person’s r religion is worthless.
then their religion is fruitless and empty.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:
Instead, God - the authoritative Father - His definition of an acceptable practice of religion is as follows:
s to visit t orphans and widows in their affliction,
that we care for the oppressed and exploited like widows and orphans,
and u to keep oneself v unstained from the world.
and that we walk in a pure way, morally uncontaminated by the world's filth.
The connection here between the tongue and heart calls Jesus's words to mind, "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). By their un-controlled speech, these people betray what is truly in their heart, and it isn't of God.
1. The conjunction "but" connecting 26b and 26c was the hardest part of the passage for me to reconcile. Taken literally, James could be interpreted to mean one of two things: 1) that not bridling your tongue is the opposite of deceiving your heart, which is clearly not the case, or 2) that thinking one is religious and yet not bridling their tongue is a means of revealing the opposite of being truly religious, which is deceiving their own heart. The latter is possible, but does not seem to coincide with the flow of how James is conveying his point. He seems to be saying that if someone thinks they are truly religious and they don't harness their tongue, then by not watching their words they are deceiving their heart. For this reason, it seemed feasible to group 26a and 26b together differently and then to group 26a-b with 26c with a Positive/Negative relationship, but even more appropriate to convey the notion that not controlling one's tongue is a means of deceiving one's heart, and that this sort of loose-tongued self-deception is the exact opposite of true religion. For this reason, 26b-c was connected with an Action-Manner relationship, while 26a-26b&c were connected with a Positive/Negative relationship. 2. The connection between tongue and heart in 26b and 26c elicit a few different verses, the first of which is Matthew 12:34, where Jesus says that "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks". In view of this, the unbridled speech these people exhibit is an indicator of what is truly in their heart, and it isn't the stuff of true religion - if it was, they would display self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) in their speech. Also, Proverbs 10:19-20 says "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver, The heart of the wicked is worth little." In verse 19, an abundance of words almost guarantees the presence of sin, while restrained speech is an indicator of wisdom. Furthermore, in verse 20, the righteous person's speech is viewed as being as precious as silver, and this is contrasted with the heart of a wicked person, which is said to be almost worthless. Many other verses could be cited that explain the connection between a person's speech and what lies inside their heart, but these are sufficient to show that when we see someone's unchecked speech, we have a clue as to what is going on inside of their heart. 3. I don't think I've ever read this passage straight through in such a way that it allowed me to see James as explaining true religion by contrasting secular man's definition of "religion" with God's authoritative and correct definition of true religion, and I probably would not have seen this if not for arcing. Recap: If you think you're religious and your tongue is all over the place, your lack of self-control is revealing what's really in your heart, and it's not true religion. Instead, God defines the practice of true religion as walking purely and helping those in need.